"My House in Town:" Dickens' Home on 48 Doughty Street [Tre!!!]
After leaving the home in 1839 with his rapidly increasing family (Catherine would give birth to 10 children in her lifetime), his name was well-known across the western world. December 17 marks the anniversary of the author’s unforgettable classic, A Christmas Carol. To celebrate, we’re touring the Charles Dickens Museum to take a closer look at what the author often referred to as, “My house in town.”
Dickens would have chosen this location because of its centrality in the active, thriving city. From 48 Doughty Street, he could easily walk to any one of his publishers’ offices, the local theater and visit with his fellow artists.Because the author and his family moved in to their first home the year Queen Victoria ascended the throne, many mistakenly refer to the building as a Victorian. However, the structure was actually built between 1805 and 1809 during the Regency era, the years George IV reigned as Prince Regent. So the Dickens’ home is, in architectural terms, a Regency-style Georgian townhouse.
The symmetry and simplicity of the architecture along with the square, terraced windows prominently display classic Georgian architecture. But, as with most buildings constructed during the Regency era, the homes on Doughty Street include a few extra embellishments, such as the white painted stucco trim, the arched entryway along the front door and the wrought iron fence seen along the perimeter of the property.
The Regency style continues inside, with arched entryways between the rooms, detailed cornices, wooden furniture pieces and elaborate rugs.Like any homeowner, Dickens also chose his home based on aesthetics. According to the museum’s experts, it was a well-known fact that Dickens fancied himself a “dandy” – he was a man always looking to keep up appearances, entertain guests and maintain a sophisticated household. So the subtle embellishments and refinement of the the Regency style home suited him perfectly.Museum experts don’t know what the entryway looked like when Dickens occupied the home. Today, the hallway walls are lined with preserved leases and real estate documents from Dickens’ various London homes, including 48 Doughty Street. The display case, seen on the left, contains a theater token, calling card, silver coin purse, leather letter wallet, walking stick, a snuff box, silver match holder and Gladstone bag – all items Dickens owned and used on a daily basis, so may have kept in the entry.
For the two years that Dickens and his family lived in the home, the dining room would have been one of the main hubs of activity. The author often invited some of the leading artists, actors, writers and publishers of the time for elegant and elaborate dinner parties. When this room wasn’t used for evening entertainment, it was also the heart of the family home. Catherine, who maintained the household, governed the staff and raised their growing number of children, had ultimate reign over this section of the house.The mahogany sideboard seen against the wall is an original piece of furniture Dickens bought for the house. The intricate woodwork along with the mirrored backing is a true testament to the time’s, and the author’s, style. Above the fireplace is a portrait of the author depicted as a “typical Regency dandy:” fashionable, confident and dressed in ornate, brightly colored clothing.
According to the museum’s experts, the morning room is where Catherine likely spent most of her time, while Dickens probably spent his days in the study upstairs. Morning rooms are east-facing family rooms used before noon to take advantage of the rising sun. Here, Catherine would receive her morning visitors, instruct the staff of the day’s chores and entertain her children.The set up of the room is re-created based on paintings of the author and his family. Along the wall we see the popular Regency stripe wall paper, the floor is covered in a chinoiserie-inspired rug and the chaise lounge with its mahogany frame is a very typical furniture piece for the time. The paintings in this room all depict the Dickens family: Charles, Catherine and their two eldest daughters, Mary and Katherine, each of whom was born in the Doughty Street home.
Given their middle-class status, the Dickens’ would have employed at least four members of domestic staff — a cook, a housemaid, a nurse or a nanny and a manservant. The staff spent most of their time in the kitchen; it was the room where they gathered, not just to work, but to take their meals and socialize as well. Catherine was also an avid and talented cook. In fact, in 1851 she published a cookbook, written under the pseudonym Lady Maria Clutterbuck, entitled What Shall We Have for Dinner? The museum used information from this book as a reference to re-create the kitchen setting seen here.According to preserved official documentation, the kitchen at Doughty Street came with some fixtures and fittings that would have been recounted when formalizing the Dickens’ lease. The list mentions “a good range as fixed with oven on side. A copper on left with Steam Kettle over. A smoke rack complete with fly wheel and 2 chairs. An Ironing Board on Iron Legs. A Towel Roller. A Coffee Mill. A Hot Place set in Brick as fixed. Dresser with pot board and four drawers and brass handles and plate shelves.” The museum used this list too when re-creating this kitchen scene....
Being the largest room in the house, the drawing room is the place where Dickens and his wife would have entertained their guests after dinner. Despite their modest living conditions, the couple often hosted up to 14 people at a time. It was a Dickens family tradition to act in amateur theatricals at home, and various iIllustrations on display depict the author reading to his audience of friends in this very room.He was an actor, writer, editor and Dickens was also a home-design enthusiast. Museum experts claim Dickens decorated the drawing room himself and may have even installed the current cornice seen running along the perimeter in the above photo. The bold colors of this room were quite typical of both the Regency era as well as the author’s personal style. For example, the red leather chair seen in the corner of the room is a luxury piece Dickens owned and used while living in this house. As in the morning room, the drawing room contains Regency stripe wallpaper and chinoiserie carpet – although not original, they are exact replicas of those seen in the background of Dickens’ portraits.
Dickens spent the majority of his time here in the study. His writing and editing career paid the rent, and thus focusing on that work occupied the bulk of his day. Museum experts believe that Dickens’ true fame as a writer was primarily established and consolidated while living in the Doughty Street home. His first publication in The Pickwick Papers, published in March 1836, the year before he moved to Doughty Street, sold less than 500 copies. But during his two years at Doughty Street, Dickens completed the serial publication, compiled the works into a novel and sold over 40,000 copies – an extraordinary number of literary sales for the time. He quickly followed up this success with the completion of OliverTwist and Nicholas Nickleby, both of which were written at Doughty Street.The desk seen here is the writing desk and chair Dickens owned until his death in 1870. It is an iconic piece that has been immortalized in etchings and paintings.
Shown: Dickens’ Dream, by artist, Robert William Buss (4 August 1804 – 26 February 1875).About: When the artist heard of Dickens’ passing in June of 1870, he was moved to create a large watercolor portrait in honor of the deceased author. The piece portrays a dozing Dickens seated at his famous desk surrounded by many of the characters he created during his life. Unfortunately, Buss died before he could finish it.
The master bedroom was a place of privacy and personal space for Dickens and his wife, so there are no records as to how this room would have actually looked during this time. A four-poster bed, like the one shown here, was common for the time period, and the wood work of the frame, as well as the bedding, would have been simple – a symbol of the family’s middle-class status. Not seen here is an adjoining dressing room. The addition of a separate dressing room was considered a luxury, and its inclusion in the Doughty Street home is a testament to the Dickens’ climbing social status.
Mary Hogarth, Catherine’s sister, frequently stayed with the Dickens family, helping Catherine tend to the children and with other household duties. The family planned for Mary to live with them permanently and readied a room for her in the Doughty Street home, so her sudden death a few weeks after they moved in was a great shock. Dickens himself was particularly affected by Mary’s death and found himself unable to work for quite some time following her passing. It was after this tragedy that sickness and death became a constant theme in his writing.Although Mary didn’t live long at Doughty Street, the room seen here is the one the Dickens’ had prepared for her during her brief time in the family’s home. Today, the room displays documents and paintings all relating to the dying and death of both young Mary and Charles Dickens.
Although there aren’t any records of the servants who lived in the Dickens’ home, museum experts do know that servants’ quarters were quite plain, well kept and fairly unused since staff likely spent most of their time working in other areas of the household. Today, however, the room’s walls are covered with quotes relating to Dickens’ social, political and personal views found in his now famous works.Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.- Tigg, in Martin Chuzzlewit, chapter 27 (1844).Want to Learn More? Plan your visit to the Charles Dickens Museum:Location: 48 Doughty Street,London, WC1N 2LXHours: Monday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (Last admission is at 4 p.m.)Tickets: £8.00 adults; £4.00 children 6 - 16 years; Free admission for children under 6 yearsMore Information: To learn more, visit the Charles Dickens Museum site. To plan your visit, purchase tickets here....